Hanging on the paneled wall above the bed in Joe and Kathy Martin’s rectangular bedroom was a weathered painting reminiscent of French landscape artist Claude Lorrain. A pale blue, cloudless sky sat atop a green prairie and a small cabin was nestled atop one of its slowly rolling hills in the portrait. It was framed in black wood, nicked and scratched, particularly on its corners.
When Roy Martin was a young boy, he’d sneak into his parents’ room and lie on their bed underneath that painting. He’d often drift off to sleep, and invariably, the painting above Roy’s head would come to life. Roy would dream that he was standing in the field, a few hundred feet from the cabin when he’d begin to hear a woman softly whispering. Prepubescent Roy didn’t understand the intricacies of female attraction. But he did know she had the sweetest, softest sounding voice he’d ever heard. And he knew he wanted to be closer to her.
In the dream, Roy would begin walking toward the cabin and the sweet whispering would multiply. The sirens’ words were inaudible, but Roy knew the whispers, now numbering in the hundreds, were summoning him to the cabin. The whispering grew louder and more intense with each step.
Roy wanted nothing more in the world than to set foot inside that cabin. But when he reached the door, the whispering stopped. Silence. Dead silence.
Then the screaming would start. A sickening, deep and metallic scream that vibrated in the young boy’s chest. Roy would hold his ears and run away from the cabin, but the screaming only intensified. It only got louder. And then he would wake up.
Roy sat in the dark in his ’98 Buick parked rudely in the yard outside of Jarrell and Evelyn Robertson’s home and thought about those dreams from so long ago. He could still hear the screams coming from that little cabin painted on canvas and hung sloppily on his parents’ bedroom wall. In fact, the screams in Roy’s head never stopped. He took another pull from the handle of cheap Canadian whiskey that lay in the passenger seat beside him and tried again to focus his wandering mind. All he ever wanted was for the screaming to stop.
His childhood was otherwise uneventful. Roy lived with his parents, Joe and Kathy, in a yellow house outside of Idalou until his parents split up when Roy was 14. Joe moved a few miles down highway 82 to Crosbyton where he found seasonal work at the gin and rarely saw his son. It was about the same time that Roy started sneaking beer from his mom’s fridge. That habit led to whiskey, which led to weed, which led to heroin and finally meth. Roy graduated almost invisibly from Idalou High but never left the area. Instead he chose to search for quiet in his head and along the dusty dirt roads outside of Lubbock.
So now here he was. He’d been released from the Lubbock County Jail late on Saturday morning and had riven immediately to Pinkies for a barbeque sandwich and three bottles of Canadian Mist. Later in the afternoon and three quarters of a bottle in, Roy decided he wasn’t going to be like his own dad. He decided he was going to the Robertson’s to get his young son. It was dark when he pulled into the yard, put the car in park and tried again to make the screaming inside his head stop. After a few minutes he got out of the car and left the engine running.
A cold chill fell over Jarrell’s entire, achy frame when he pulled up to the house and saw Roy’s car idling in the yard. Jarrell rushed to the door just as Roy was coming out, baby Reid in his arms. Jarrell tried to stop Roy, but he was no match for the much younger and stronger Roy Martin. With a baby in one arm, Roy grabbed Jarrell by the neck with his free hand and threw him sprawling off the porch. “Don’t do this, Roy,” Jarrell shouted, but Roy was already getting into the car. It was then that he heard Evelyn’s screams for help coming from inside the house.
Jarrell scrambled to his feet and into the house where he saw Evelyn lying in a heap on the kitchen floor. He rushed to her side and dialed 911 from his cell phone.
The following Saturday night, Jarrell sat in a hospital room in Lubbock with Evelyn. She’d fallen and shattered her hip and fractured her elbow while trying to prevent Roy from taking baby Reid. In traction, she’d been in terrible pain all week, but on Saturday night she was finally able to rest, albeit fitfully.
Jarrell turned on the Tech game at about 9:30 after Evelyn’s lead nurse made her final visit for the day. Naturally it was tough for Jarrell to concentrate on the game, particularly when Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage scored his 6th, then 7th, then 8th touchdown of the night. In the game’s waning moments Jarrell lost all interest. He stared out from the 3rd story window into the hospital’s parking lot and wondered if anything would ever change.
An old green pick-up circled in the well-lit parking lot below. Jarrell watched as the driver rolled down his window and tossed a still lit cigarette to the ground. It rolled in seemingly congruent circles and Jarrell thought about his beloved Evelyn, praying she’d be ok. The cigarette continued to roll on the asphalt in ever tighter circles and Jarrell thought about his grandson, Reid, and the boy’s poor, lost parents who always seemed to slap away any helping hands. Jarrell knew that Roy would have to be dealt with, one way or the other. There was no other option. The cigarette started to zigzag toward the curb like a careful skier navigating his way down the most benign slopes. Angling right, then cutting back to the left, in both directions downward toward the safety of the curb.
On the periphery, Jarrell thought about his favorite escape, his lifelong pasttime and how they’d let him down again. “Ain’t nothing gonna ever change,” Jarrell muttered to himself. Then the cigarette in the parking lot was gone. It disappeared into the side of the curb where it would stay until the street sweepers could later whisk it away.